I was surprised to learn from our area managers that they hire about 1/3 more hosts each year than they actually need. Why? Apparently some would-be hosts quit before they are scheduled to report, and others quit after a couple of weeks when they find out it’s just not for them. The part of the job that usually results in early departures is not cleaning toilets or shoveling ashes out of fire pits. It’s dealing with the public.
In our experience, camp hosting is 75% customer service, and only 25% cleaning the campground. The people who visit our campgrounds are our customers. As such, we want to treat them with courtesy as we share our little corner of the mountains. I've found that when approaching a customer, whether it’s to collect a fee or to enforce a rule, I keep the following two assumptions in mind. I assume:
1. They want to do what I’m asking, whether it is to pay the fee or to comply with a rule.
2. They are honest.
For example: we had several people over the summer come into camp late at night with no cash and no checks, asking the next morning if we take cards. We don’t. So they've basically already used our campground and have no means to pay. It would be really easy to get angry with these people and chew them out for theft of services, but that just makes them angry and much less likely to make arrangements to get the fees paid. I found that if I told them they could go into town, get the cash and bring it back, over half did. I had a few others tell me they would mail their payment to the office. I have no way of knowing whether or not they did, but the fact that I did not yell at them or embarrass them in front of their families likely increased the chances that they did.
In our experience, 95% of the people who come to a campground respect the forest and respect other people. Yes, there will always be the 5% that will be less than respectful. The emotional intelligence skills will always help in dealing with difficult customers.
1. Self-Awareness: (The ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and to understand your own tendencies in different situations.) I don’t like being yelled at or talked down to. That said, I am aware that as a camp host, I am only the messenger in most cases, and it is the message – not me – that they are reacting to.
2. Self-Management: (The ability to act – or not to act – on your own emotions.) Since I couldn’t change the message, I learned not to take a customer’s reaction as a personal attack.
3. Social Awareness: (The ability to accurately pick up on emotions of other people and to understand what is really going on with them.) Every time a visitor pushed back on a fee collection it was because they perceived that they had already paid – either through the Mirror Lake Highway Rec fee, a National Parks Pass, or even their income taxes. Being able to empathize with them usually lightened the mood and eased into the solution. And when it didn’t, I was able to fall back on my self-awareness and realize that the amount of money involved just wasn’t worth a conflict.
4. Relationship Management: (The ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully.) Most people will calm down once given the chance to express their anger or disappointment.